The Technology of Buying Harry Potter Theater Tickets

The latest extension to the Harry Potter universe is a play called Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Playing at the Palace Theatre in London, this two-part play has received excellent reviews following its opening last weekend. The script was also released in book form, though many readers were confused by it.

Harry potter ticketsAs expected, a play of this sort is quite popular, and tickets for the initial run sold out immediately. In addition, being in two parts means that half as many people can see the entire play as a “normal” play, since just about everyone buys tickets for both parts. It is shown with both parts the same day, or over two days, and you can buy tickets for the two parts with the same seats, which is a nice touch.

Yesterday, the theater released another 250,000 tickets for performances through December 2017. I bought tickets, and I found the online process interesting.

The play’s website contains ticket information and links to two resellers. At 10am yesterday, one could click those links and enter a queue, and then wait for the opportunity to buy tickets. I did so at 10am, in two browser tabs on each of two computers. I tried each of the different resellers, and for three of the four tabs, my number was above 50,000, but for one of them, it was around 27,000. (The screenshot at the left shows a position I would have had if I had joined the queue late yesterday afternoon, after I had finally purchased tickets.)

Throughout the day, the “Number of users in queue ahead of you” decreased. One of the two resellers sold their allocated tickets in a couple of hours, but the second – where I was 27,000 – still had tickets. Finally, around 5pm, I was able to buy tickets.

I had expected to find only cheap seats, far from the stage, available at that time. But since I had already chatted with some people on Twitter who had bought tickets, I knew to look far ahead rather than try to get tickets for a show in a few months. I picked a date in October 2017, found I had very good seats, but let them go. I then picked a date two weeks later and got front row seats.

What’s most interesting about this process is that, unlike when, say, Apple launches a new iPhone, you don’t have to constantly reload a web page in the hopes of being able to see anything. The queuing system was well organized, and made the process much simpler. I even heard from one person on Twitter whose wife was waiting for tickets, lost Wi-Fi, but when it came back, still had her position in the queue. So the browser saved a cookie which allowed it to recover that position.

When I finally got to browse for tickets, things were a bit slow. Clicking on a date to check for tickets took a while, then removing tickets and trying again also wasn’t very fast. But I knew that the system was working as it should, and I had no worry that I would lose my place. When buying an iPhone, it’s all hit or miss.

Apple should consider using a system like this. It leads to a lot less frustration, and funnels users into a purchase process more logically. I’m sure they won’t, however, because the website would have to show a user’s position in the queue, hence betraying the number of people waiting to buy the product. And Apple doesn’t want anyone to know that.

Stop back in about 15 months when I’ll post a review of the play…